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The Swastika in Poland

27th November 2015
Posted by S Taylor

In parts of Eastern Europe the Swastika motif can be traced back to pre-Christian Slavic mythology. It was probably dedicated to the sun god Svarog and known as Swarzyca.   For the Slavs the Swastika was a magic sign manifesting the power and majesty of the sun and fire. It was often used as an ornament decorating urns with ashes of the dead.

The Swastika has been widely used in Polish culture over many centuries. It has occurred on ancient coins, on military insignia, on coats of arms, as a talisman, in publishing and on memorial stones, to list most of its principal usages.

As a popular motif it was particularly prevalent amongst the peasantry of the Tatra Mountains.  Sometimes regarded as a solar symbol it was employed as a talisman and was either painted or carved on houses in that region of Poland.  As in Latvia it was thought of as a protective device for members of the household against evil and disaster.

So in the light of these popular beliefs it is not surprising that it appeared on the military insignia of units linked to these highland regions.  This symbol has been incorporated into the insignia of a number of Polish military units, not last in Podhale where the Górals were well represented.  The Highlander Cross was the symbol of the Polish 21st and 22nd Mountain Infantry Divisions.

Boreyko Arms
Boreyko Arms

The Swastika was also popular with the nobility. The noble house of Boreyko from Ruthenia also had the Swastika on their coat of arms.   The family had reached its peak of influence in the 14th and 15th centuries and their crest is represented in books of heraldry from that time. The origin of the family can be traced back to the eastern regions of today’s Ukraine.

The famous composer, Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, is commemorated by a memorial stone with a Swastika on the very spot he was said to have died in a skiing accident in 1909.

In the nineteenth century the Swastika was one of the Russian empire’s symbols; it was even placed on coins as a background to the Russian eagle.  It was included in the design of bank notes in the period of the Bolshevik revolution. Some may recall that the Russian Tsarina Alexandra  scratched the Swastika into a pane of glass while being held by the Bolsheviks before the family was assassinated  in 1918.

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